Lucian, with a dissatisfied expression, shot a sharp glance at Diana.
Why do I have to be kind to that person?
At that moment, Diana, who had been watching Ariel and Lucian from a distance with interest, started provoking.
“Oh my, Ariel. I actually don’t have much time. I have to leave soon.”
She tempted Ariel while shaking the charming Bellaruscake box.
“Wouldn’t you like to eat some cake with me quickly?”
Ariel’s eyes widened.
“Diana has to leave soon?”
It couldn’t be. I’ve only just seen her.
Diana’s temptation was successful. Ariel was about to turn away from Lucian and move toward Diana.
She wanted to talk a bit more since they hadn’t met in a while.
But then, Lucian grabbed her wrist.
Ariel looked at him in confusion.
He held her wrist, preventing her from going. Gently squeezing her hand, he said, “It’s not good to follow anyone just because they’re offering you food.”
He pressed his thumb into the palm of her hand like he was pressing a kitten’s paw.
Ariel’s face turned slightly red at being treated as someone who would follow food blindly.
“Oh, no. I’m not a kitten! I don’t prefer what Diana gives; I prefer Diana herself.”
She managed to say with a barely audible whisper.
“Because I like Diana… I like whatever she gives me.”
Lucian, who was slowly furrowing his brows, threateningly said, “You say that nicely.”
“Nice? Well, it’s because I like it.”
He slowly lifted Ariel’s chin and locked eyes with her.
“You’ve never said anything like that to your husband, have you?”
Ariel blinked in confusion.
Her cheeks felt hot all of a sudden, but she whispered as if it was obvious, “That’s… because we have a contractual relationship.”
Lucian’s expression became strange after hearing Ariel’s answer.
Diana, who had been watching Lucian from a distance, nodded half-heartedly as she observed how his attitude was completely different from when he faced her.
“Hmm… It really seems like he might have feelings, huh?”
He was famously averse to anyone touching his body. Yet, he didn’t seem to mind Ariel’s touch, her words, or her actions, and his reactions kept changing depending on her.
As Ariel seemed to be done with her conversation, she turned back to Diana.
“Diana, I’m here.”
In fact, Diana wasn’t in a hurry, so she leisurely cast her gaze towards Lucian. His expression, as he glared at her, was so cold and terrifying that it sent shivers down her spine.
‘Hmm. That’s not enough.’
Diana said loudly as if she wanted him to hear.
“Our Ariel is so cute, isn’t she? Come, sit next to me.”
She hugged the petite Ariel tightly and planted a kiss on each of her cheeks. Then, she warmly placed her arm around Ariel’s shoulder.
‘What do you think? A three-piece set of affection: kisses, hugs, and arm around the shoulder!’
Lucian, who had been watching them, raised his eyebrows.
Diana turned and smiled at Lucian, as if teasing him.
“My cutie, will you marry me after eating this?”
It seemed like the provocation got to him, as Lucian’s face stiffened.
Diana was slightly surprised and withdrew her hand.
‘Oh… It actually looks real, doesn’t it?’
It’s fun, but maybe it’s time to stop now.
With a generous smile, Diana said to Lucian, “Would the Grand Duke like to join us for some cake?”
When she spoke to him, Ariel turned to look at Lucian.
His eyes, which had been exuding some kind of aura, changed as if to say, “When did that happen?”
“… Ariel, make sure to eat a lot. Gain some weight.”
Oh, he understood this time.
With a bright smile, Diana replied, “Sure.”
Lucian left the greenhouse without looking back.
“Diana, the cake is really pretty.”
Ariel, who was unaware of the little struggle between her best friend and her husband, admired the limited edition Earl Grey apple cake from Bellarus.
It was a delicious cake with a moist Earl Grey tea-infused sponge, a generous layer of whipped cream, and plenty of candied apples. On top, there were crunchy buttery crumbs.
Diana watched Ariel as she ate her cake like a rabbit, smiling contentedly.
“I feel a bit relieved now.”
Ariel raised her head in confusion at her friend’s unexpected comment.
Diana wordlessly used her fork to pick up a piece of candied apple and fed it to Ariel.
“By the way, Diana, you said you had to leave quickly, didn’t you?”
Diana casually fanned herself.
“I thought about it, and it doesn’t seem like my next schedule is that important.”
“Yeah. I’ll stay a bit longer.”
Ariel’s face lit up in an instant.
“Wow! Diana, I’m so happy!”
“Quick, eat. Whipped cream tastes better when it’s still cold.”
Diana carefully selected a piece with lots of crumbs and handed it to Ariel with a smile.
In her mind, she let out a silent sigh of relief that Lucian didn’t get jealous. It seemed that he didn’t quite grasp the age-old truth that there’s no gain in being jealous of your wife’s same-gender friends.
* * *
Finally, Lucian had spent a month at the Lacartiel Mansion, and only one day remained. He had returned in September when the leaves were still green, but now, in October, when the leaves had turned red, he was packing his bags.
Of course, it wasn’t him but Allen who was packing his things.
Since he had stayed for a month, there was quite a bit of luggage to take. Lucian sat bored among the busy servants and Allen, who were packing up the items.
Once they had removed the large pieces of luggage, only one small square travel bag, which Lucian had filled with his personal items, was left in the room.
Then they heard a faint knocking on the door.
Lucian granted permission, but the door didn’t open.
Only the sound of polite, acorn-like knocking could be heard.
Even just from the sound of the knock, it was obvious who was outside.
Despite his repeated invitation, the door remained closed.
Impatient Lucian walked over to the door and forcefully opened it.
He called her name but stopped when he saw her face standing at the door.
He lifted Ariel and brought her into the room.
Setting her down at his desk, he held her shoulders.
“Who is it?”
To ask who it was before consoling the crying child was typical of a Lacartiel man’s way of thinking.
Ariel, who had started crying when she entered Lucian’s room, simply shook her head, refusing to speak.
“Who is it? Tell me.”
But Lucian was not the type to give up easily.
Ariel, who stubbornly refused to speak, shed tears and shook her head when Lucian threatened her.
“Who… is it?”
Lucian couldn’t help but be astounded and asked again, “Who is it?”
At that moment, Ariel stopped crying and sobbed softly.
“Speak, who is it?”
But Lucian was not one to easily give up.
Ariel stubbornly refused to speak, and when he threatened her, she shed tears while shaking her head.
“Who… is it?”
Lucian looked at her with confusion.
Astonished, he asked and raised his eyebrows in an indignant manner.
In that moment, Ariel stopped crying and started sobbing softly.
Lucian’s words were cut short as he looked at her face.
Ariel, who was now looking up at him, tried to hold back her sobs.
“Why… do you go back?”
Ariel was not used to parting and reuniting.
Anyone, even an ordinary seventeen-year-old, would have experienced multiple meetings and farewells.
Whether it was with family, friends, or people around them.
When they were babies, they might not have understood that the people who were by their side as naturally as the air would leave, but as they grew up and went through the repeated cycle of parting and meeting, they learned how to accept it.
But Ariel was different.
Nobody had been by her side for even a year.
No one had been with her before, and no one had any significance in her life.
It was an everyday occurrence that didn’t matter who came or went.
In her new life, Ariel hadn’t learned how to cope with separation yet.
Among the people who had grown close to Ariel, Lucian was the only one who kept leaving her side, even if it was not permanent.
She understood that he wasn’t gone forever, but every farewell was hard for Ariel.
Today, Ariel came to Lucian’s room, intending to have a conversation without crying, but when she saw the large bags being taken out of his room, she froze, and tears welled up in her eyes.
Lucian, who was unsure of how to respond, wiped his hair back as if he didn’t know what to say. He picked up Ariel and sat her down inside the empty square travel bag that was open.
“Shall I take you with me?”
Ariel looked at where she was sitting with a teary gaze and nodded.
Lucian’s voice was rough.
“There’s no cake or anything there. There’s nothing. It’s just me. Are you still going to come?”
It didn’t matter if it meant parting ways with everyone or not. To Ariel, who was not used to parting, the immediate parting before her was the scariest and heaviest.
She answered while crying.
“Yes, I’m going.”
Things like cake were never a part of her life to begin with.
Of course, Lucian was never a part of it either, but this time they had spent a whole month together…
In her past life, Ariel didn’t know how to cry, even in the midst of pain and suffering.
But why did her tears flow so easily when it came to Lucian?
Lucian, who glared at her with clenched fists, suddenly let out a deep sigh.
He pulled Ariel out of the bag, having apparently had a change of heart.
He lifted her out and used the corner of his freshly changed white shirt to wipe away her tears.
With one hand holding Ariel’s slender arm, he said, “I can’t treat you like this when you’re all skin and bones. Maybe you’ll become plump if you eat a lot of cake.”
While wiping her runny nose, she thought, “Is cake the problem after all?”
Lucian, fingering the lacy ribbon tied at the back of Ariel’s head, said in a somewhat threatening tone, “Stay at home. It’s an order.”
Ariel, who had resisted for a while, eventually nodded weakly. If it was an order, there was no choice.
With her head bowed, she met Lucian’s eyes, and he chuckled maliciously, as if he were up to something.
“And today, you’ll sleep in my room.”
* * *
Wearing a pink nightgown and hugging a pillow, Ariel headed to Lucian’s room.
On the bed, Lucian sat leaning against the headboard with his arms crossed, his eyes closed.
“Are you asleep?”
Ariel stealthily crawled to the end of the vast bed.
Lying down, she observed Lucian with great interest as he had his eyes closed.
‘He’s really beautiful…’
Although it seemed about time to get used to it, Lucian’s appearance was still difficult to adapt to, no matter how many times she looked at it.
It was like they belonged to completely different species.
Ariel recalled her own reflection in the mirror.
‘If I had an ordinary person’s appearance, does that make Lucian look like a god from mythology?’
Then, Lucian’s beautiful lips, as if carved in stone, moved.
A soft voice flowed out, seemingly lower than one would expect for a young man of his appearance.
“There’s a reason.”
Ariel jumped with surprise. She had thought he was asleep and pulled the blanket over her head in a start.
After a while, finding it strange that it was so quiet outside, she peeked her head out from under the blanket. Suddenly, Lucian, who had opened his eyes, was looking down at her.
Ariel asked, repeating his words.
“What is it?”
“Going to the academy. There’s a reason.”
“I… I know.”
Ariel answered hesitantly, feeling a bit awkward. It seemed like Lucian was mentioning this because she had cried earlier about him leaving.
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